For students and staff at Cameroon’s University of Yaounde 1 getting around campus has become greener. Two electric mini buses called ‘blue buses’, which are charged using solar energy, transport them free of charge around campus.
The buses are part of multinational transport company Bollore’s pilot vision to reduce its green house gas emissions by investing in electric buses and vehicles for urban transportation in major African cities.
The project falls in line with the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto protocol but is yet to attain investment levels that qualify it as a carbon reduction project.
“This project is yet to reach a magnitude that can significantly contribute to the company’s climate neutrality and is at the moment considered as a pilot project and humanitarian gesture to the university community,” said Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environmental Development (CED) in Cameroon.
The buses began operations in October 2013.
Each bus can carry 30 passengers and the buses presently transport at least 2000 students and staff daily, explained Ismaelo Aziz, an electrical mechanic at the blue bus charging facility.
The buses are each equipped with three large 460-volt-batteries, each of which can power the buses for between 50 to 200 km when fully charged. They are charged at a station that has a 200 square-meter solar panel.
Electric, solar-powered vehicles like these are the way of the future but Africa could face serious infrastructural problems to adapt to this technology in terms of roads, charging facilities and maintenance cost, Aziz explained. “Electric cars are still very expensive.That is why this project has just two cars for now, not enough to serve the whole university.”
Cameroon looks to clean energy future
The blue bus project is just one of the sustainable energy initiatives in the city of Yaounde. A renewable energy plan has been developed to focus on solar technology that delivers the greatest cost-benefit and outcomes for the City.
The City has already installed photovoltaic systems on major streets and public sites to power about 3000* street light panels. The Cameroon Telecommunication sector is installing surveillance cameras in the city of Yaounde and Douala all equipped with solar panels.
Clean energy initiatives are part of the country’s sustainable energy pathway as it works toward becoming an emerging country by 2035.
Although more than 80 percent of Cameroon’s electric energy comes from hydroelectric sources, the Cameroon is also exploiting other green energy sources with the use of solar energy gaining grounds in the country, said Nelson Asanji, a Renewable Energy Engineer in the Ministry of Mines Energy and Water Resources.
Rising oil prices, increasing global energy consumption and concern for the environment has led to a renewed interest in alternative energy sources.
To encourage development of renewable energy, the Cameroon government passed a law declaring the nonpayment of VAT on the importation of all solar equipment as from the 2012 financial year.
“This decision has greatly improved investments in the sector and there are over 25 major firms dealing in the distribution of renewable energy in Cameroon,” said Asanji.
Five years ago solar energy was not as popular as it is today, said Godfred Weriwoh, project director of a solar street light scheme in Yaounde.
Despite criticisms of the high startup costs for solar street lighting, the street light project, initiated five years ago, has stood the test of time and proved to be the most sustainable way of lighting.
“Solar is a hundred percent free, doesn’t require expensive and ongoing raw materials like petrol and diesel and requires significantly lower operational labor than the classical power production plants,” Weriwoh said.
High cost of electricity for public lighting
Public lighting accounts for about one fifth of Yaounde City’s annual electricity bill and contributes to power shortages experienced in most neigbourhoods during peak hours.
City inhabitants have taken to illegally connecting street lights to the public electricity grid in areas where there are no street lights “The phenomenon contributes largely to power shortages that the city currently faces. The majority of the street lights in the quarters do not have switches and remain lighted all year round,” said the Energy Ministry’s Asanji. This practice also has a direct cost on the city council’s expenses on electricity.
According to the World Bank, 48 to 88 percent of the urban population in Cameroon has access to electricity while in rural communities 14 percent have access to electricity.
Solar energy presents a real opportunity for both urban and rural populations, said Asanji. “In terms of solar potential, Africa is situated from one side to another at the Equator level, hence making this continent one of the sunniest in the world.”
Monde Kingsley Nfor is journalist and international development consultant in Cameroon. He is also a correspondent for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). Monde holds a master’s degree in International Relations and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. His email: [email protected]
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the City has already installed photovoltaic systems on major streets and public sites to power about 300 street light panels. The correct figure is 3000. Urbanafrica regrets the error. [Updated August 28, 10:00 a.m.]Read older posts from this section